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Telemedicine and the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

March 26, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

COVID-19 has forced a lot of changes on the world, from healthcare efforts on an unprecedented scale to a wave of panic buying as people prepare for supplies and borders to close down. 

 

Telemedicine & COVID-19

 

People at every level have taken huge steps to prevent the disease from spreading; the quarantine–perhaps the most brute-force tool in disease control but also one of the oldest and most effective–has been deployed in one nation after another with little to no preamble. Although this has had significant detrimental effects on affected countries and global commerce, it has also had measurable success, slowing the spread of COVID-19 and in some cases preventing it from transmission to new hosts altogether.

The big question in such circumstances, of course, is that of healthcare providers; after all, one needs to be in front of the patient to properly treat them. Unlike an enormous number of people in affected areas, a doctor can’t work from home…right?

 

The truth is that telemedicine, as it is called, is far from a new practice. The mandatory quarantines and the sheer number of inquiries and procedures to be performed have necessitated a drastic rise in telemedical procedures since COVID-19 began to spread.

In many countries, entirely new frameworks for telemedicine were developed in as little as a few months, enabling providers to “keep pace” with COVID-19. Additionally, many healthcare providers put significant resources towards boosting existing telemedicine, bringing in extra hotline operators and extending hours to meet rising demand.

1. Remote Diagnosis

 

Telemedicine takes three distinct forms, each with their own place in the fight to keep COVID-19 from getting out of control. The first is remote diagnosis, where medical professionals use various real-time conferencing techniques to determine if a patient will need to report to a physical testing center, enter quarantine, or take any other preventative measures. This can be the first and only step needed to prevent a doctor from coming down with COVID-19 themselves by limiting exposure rather than coming in contact with several patients each day. 

2. Virtual Check-Up

 

The virtual check-up, the second type of telemedicine, can be used by those experiencing possible symptoms. In this kind of visit, patients can use advice and images supplied by their healthcare professional to track the progress of their symptoms and treatments. Often, these appointments work in the other direction as well, and the provider will gather images and data from the patient to add to each patient’s individual file.

3. Electronic Check-In

 

The third kind of telemedicine that was employed extensively in the early stages of the outbreak is the electronic check-in, where potentially exposed individuals were required to quarantine themselves and declare as much to the government by way of an electronic tracking system. Governments were able to use this information to more precisely track the number of cases and direct medical response to where it was needed, eliminating the need for physical enforcement of a quarantine that could expose personnel and use considerable resources of every kind.

Another type of telemedicine that has been specific to this outbreak is the struggle to maintain a flow of accurate information to a public beset by serious waves of misinformation on every account. While not official, no one can deny its importance or effectiveness.

References

 

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